(CN) – The 9th Circuit overturned the conviction of a member of the “No More Deaths” border aid organization, ruling that the group’s practice of placing bottles of water in the desert along immigrant paths does not constitute littering.
To help prevent the deaths of immigrants who are illegally trying to enter the United States, members of No More Deaths place gallon-sized bottles of water along paths that run through the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
Daniel Millis and three other volunteers were caught leaving the water by officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Millis was given a citation for disposing waste in a national forest.
The district court convicted him on the charge despite Millis’s argument that the group was engaged in humanitarian aid by leaving the bottles and that “humanitarian aid is never a crime.” Millis also argued that the group picked up the empty bottles.
On appeal, a 2-1 majority based in Las Vegas ruled that under the definition of garbage, sealed bottles of water meant for consumption did not constitute disposal of waste.
“Millis likely could have been charged under a different regulatory section, such as abandonment of property or failure to obtain a special use permit. However, that is not the question presented here,” Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for the majority.
In a dissent, Judge Jay Bybee wrote, “Under the majority’s definition, any number of objects, for example, sleeping bags, packaged food, clothing, flashlights, plastic bags, or shoes can be left in the wildlife refuge without incurring liability merely because someone thought that the discarded item might be useful to the next person passing through.”